Twenty-eight residents approved the first step toward solving the town’s salt barn woes to allow the purchase of 30.2 acres on Missouri Road.
“This piece of property gives us options,” Chairman Todd Weinberger said at a special town board meeting held June 5, prior to the vote by the electors.
The salt barn on State Highway 19 is showing signs of structural failure as cracks formed through its cinder-blocks walls. The walls bow out over an inch.
Gravel and large cement blocks were placed to reinforce the outer walls and buy more time to find a permanent solution.
Patrolman Jim Hellenbrand said a portion of an upper wall was also replaced to protect salt from the elements. The town also faces limited space to expand its recycling center.
Weinberger detailed the solutions the town board has explored over the past two years to the electors. “It’s a challenge to look at what the Town of Medina would look like 50 years from now. We walked through the (existing) town hall which is not ADA compliant. We have a new full-time clerk, but have no office space. We have records dating back to the 1800s. Some of our more precious documents dating back to 1848 are now in a safe.”
The existing public works facility has been expanded with a third garage bay and the roof was raised. “We could use another dumpster at the recycling facility,” the chairman added.
Darrell Langer noted that the existing salt barn was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps after World War II to house a grader. Hellenbrand said he found old newspapers inside the structure when he pulled down and reinforced a wall.
“It’s amazing how straight it is because CCC was comprised of kids off the street learning how to lay block. Some structures in other places had block going in all directions. The walls weren’t designed to hold back salt. I suspect the salt is eating away at the block. Cement block is just stacked and the mortar becomes ineffective. It was reinforced by Beaver Gunnite in the 80s,” Langer said.
Weinberger said that the existing structure poses safety risks to employees and the public. The board explored options to rent office space in town or share salt facilities with surrounding communities. “We could rent or share equipment and space with the Village of Marshall – and we have done so when we’ve had flooding issues. We could lease equipment or abolish our public works department and contract services out,” he said detailing the options the board has considered.
The Town of Waterloo has also offered to discuss possibly sharing salt storage facilities. “That is a discussion that is still upcoming.”
Officials said the current shed’s small footprint affects its winter materials budget. “If we could buy more salt early at a good price, we can save money.”
The town’s patrolman currently buys salt throughout the winter because there isn’t enough storage space to purchase all the salt at one time.
“We need a place to put salt,” Weinberger said. “That’s hands down. This (new property) is a small price to pay considering the risks of the existing facility.”
Remodeling the existing facilities pens the town in between State Highway 19 and a flood plain.
Devin Flanigan, a consultant with Keller construction detailed the costs of bringing the existing facilities up to code. “(Renovating the town hall) into a small office space could turn into a huge undertaking just to bring it up to codes,” Devin Flanigan from Keller consultants, said. Weinberger noted that a 300 setback from the high-water mark of the Manausha River limits options.
“The high water mark was up to these tables one year,” Hellenbrand said.
“There’s no way to construct a building here without significant cost,” Weinberger said. River barriers would need to protect new construction.
“I think you’re crazy to spend another dollar on this property given this property’s flooding problem,” a resident said.
Medina’s Town Board has been exploring property options before the salt barn began to fail. An idea to construct a community center in 2016 led to talks with Dane County to acquire Riley-Deppe Park. However, talks with the county fell through and deed stipulations were unlikely to change to accommodate a municipal building in the park. “Mowing 34 acres would be a burden for our two employees,” Weinberger added.
As the salt barn expedited a Facilities Needs Committee’s search, town officials visited several properties owned by Enbridge, WE Energies, and the town’s dump. Each of the properties had their own challenges. The dump’s waste would need to be removed and other properties contained wetlands or other acquisition challenges. Another offer for two acres in Deansville for $64,000 fell through.
Officials didn’t think the location or property size met all of their needs. Discussions with Marshall and the potential to lease office space in the village also fell through.
“One of the challenges to this discussion was ‘How many acres do we need?’ Two acres could be too small. Thirty certainly is probably too much,” Weinberger said.
Supervisor John Ward noted they also asked owners of vacant buildings if they were interested in transferring property. “We sought to see if anyone had land no one wanted to buy on but we had no takers,” Weinberger said. “Land in Dane County comes at a premium and can range from $6,000 to $49,000 an acre- without anything on it.”
Estimates to building a new salt structure generally can cost as much as $200,000 without the cost of land. Weingberger noted that the Missouri Road property eliminates that cost through purchasing the land and buildings for $285,000.
The Missouri Road property has three silos, several barns and a dilapidated home. Town officials have identified three buildings which are immediately usable for a salt storage facility. “This site isn’t without risk,” Weinberger said. The house and other buildings will need to be demolished at some point. He detailed the opportunities the purchase provides the town.
“It’s possible that we don’t do anything with the rest of the land. Perhaps we sell it. Or we relocate our operations down (to a different section of the pasture). One resident inquired if the surrounding pasture could be rented to a local farmer. Board members noted they could eventually sell the existing town hall or even part of the Missouri Road property in the future.
“How can we get out of that $285,000? By buying this property. This property offers us opportunities we haven’t even explored yet,” Weiberger said to persuade residents. One resident noted that a 5.5-acre vacant piece of land with wetland recently sold for $275,000 in the town.
“Right now we know we don’t have a usable salt shed. We know it’ll cost $200,000 to build a salt shed. Now, tell us where to find the land. This property here, it takes care of our salt shed immediately for $285,000. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
Pat LeMehieu listened to the presentation, but still had concerns. “I hope there is a long range plan with more details than I’m hearing right now. All I’m hearing is that we’re looking to replace a salt shed. If we’re dealing with the immediate need, there are cheaper places to store salt.”
“Where?” asked Weinberger, repeating the list of properties already explored. “You have to meet DOT (Department of Transporation) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) requirements for runoff. This property meets those requirements.”
“It’s difficult for me to come here, not being involved with these discussions. You know in your own mind what the future holds. Someone like me not being involved is only hearing ‘salt shed, salt shed, salt shed.’”
“This addresses our immediate need, and it also gives us options for the future. A salt shed would cost $200,000,” Weinberger said. “And we have land and two other immediately usable buildings.”
“There needs to be some kind of plan to increase the tax base of this town. If we’re poor, we need to live poor,” LeMehieu said.
Town Clerk Tammy Jordan asked more residents to come to meetings and to get more involved with planning committees.
The land is currently owned by the Lee Merrick Foundation and is zoned for agricultural and residential use. According to Dane County records, $2823,80 was paid in taxes last year for an assessed value of $181,400.
The Merrick Foundation is only offering the land to the town before listing it to the general market. Town officials fear the cost could go up if that occurred.
One contingency of the purchase allows supervisors to back out of the purchase if excessive contaminants are found in an environmental study before closure.
Eighteen residents approved the purchase, with eight voting against the proposal.